Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce starting minority business program

Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce starting minority business program

May 23rd, 2012 by Ansley Haman in News

Tom Edd Wilson

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

As early as next week, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce plans to hire a coordinator for its new minority business outreach initiative.

Last year, the Hamilton County Commission voted to give the Chamber $75,000 that previously had been allocated to the Multicultural Chamber of Commerce, an organization that was designed to help minority businesses but experienced serious financial trouble, prompting a leadership overhaul. In return, Chamber representatives agreed to create a program to assist minority business owners.

Chamber President and CEO Tom Edd Wilson said Tuesday that the organization has narrowed its pool of potential coordinators to two finalists.

"We are so close," Wilson said. "We are meeting again next week."

The Chamber has requested an additional $75,000 for fiscal 2013, which begins July 1, to help fund the program. That amount is in addition to the $525,000 for economic and industrial development the Chamber's foundation requested from the county.

The Chamber also is requesting $525,000 from the city.

Neither the city nor county have determined exactly how much to give to support the Chamber this year. Budgets will likely be approved next month by both local government bodies.

City Councilman Peter Murphy last week questioned whether that amount would help pay for the Chamber's lobbying efforts, which he opposes.

"I think we're paying for the business community's lobbyist," Murphy said last week. "We don't expect that our tax dollars will fund lobbying activities."

Wilson appeared before the City Council Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday to explain that the funds would only support the nonprofit functions of the foundation, not the membership functions of the Chamber. Nonprofits are prohibited from lobbying, Wilson said.

"It's the law," he said.

Despite that, he said payment of some employees is divided between the membership and foundation arms of the organization. Employee salaries are broken down based on the amount of time each individual spends on a type of task.

"What are we paying that person who is lobbying?" Murphy asked.

Wilson said $11,492.

"He does a lot of things for $11,492," Wilson said. "Our lobbying we do, what little it is, is done by the [membership arm]."

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